Q: Is the Color Layer Hypoallergenic?

April 17, 2011

Marlene asked:

I’m desperately trying to find a solution to my recently-developed metal allergy as I LOVE my earrings. Titanium seems like a great option to try, but I am wondering, what is the colored coating composed of? Is there anything in that I could be allergic to?

As I explain on pages such as A short article on the physics of Anodized Titanium Color, the color layer is pure titanium dioxide. Just oxygen bonded to the surface of the metal creating a material that has been used for artificial “Titania” diamonds.

Thus this layer actually is the hypoallergenic coating that makes titanium safe. The “silver” color has a thin layer of the oxide on it, whether I want it or not. Titanium spontaneously grabs oxygen from air or water to protect itself. When anodizing or heat coloring, the higher the voltage, the thicker the protective layer becomes. But there is no practical difference for hardness or sensitivity, as the thickest layer (green) is about 0.00000003 inches thick.

I use a simple phosphate detergent as my electrolyte, then soak the ear hooks in clear water. In the 30 years since I started doing this I have had only two customers who were too sensitive even for titanium wires. I suspect it was a non-chemical tactile or contact sensitivity; the rubbing or pressure itself was causing the reaction.

Some people claim that niobium is even better for sensitive ears than titanium. They are chemically similar, and involve the same method of coloring. It’s been discussed before here: Hypoallergenic: Titanium versus Niobium

I suggest trying both, as a spare pair of wires is cheaper than another shipping charge.  Shop my Ear Hooks.

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Why add a capacitor to the Anodizer?

August 6, 2008

I received the following question:

I have a variac and full wave rectifier but no cap.
What is the reason behind adding a capasitor to the anodizer? I know it will reduce electrical ripple but what will it mean to the anodize process or final results?

In principle, the smoother, ripple-reduced output allows more even anodizing starting at the initial surge. Whether this is truly useful, I don’t really know. My experience is almost exclusively with a smoothed DC supply. But I have a switch on my main anodizer to disconnect the capacitor for those occasions when I feel like it.

RMS vs Peak Voltage The voltage will read wrong with ripple. The anodized color depends on the peak voltage. But a rippled current shows on a meter as the rms voltage, that is somewhat lower. So the color is less predictable, and the time spent at that voltage is more critical to watch.

Also, once you reach your final voltage (or at least asymptotically close enough), the smooth DC current is stopped. But a rippling supply still produces a trickle of  current as the piece you are anodizing acts as a capacitor. If you wait long enough, you can see the color continues to rise at a fixed ripply voltage.

This latter point is more important if you mask and do a succession of lower voltages for multiple colors. With ripple, the higher voltage colors will creep as you anodize the lower voltage areas.

Another note is that AC is more dangerous than DC. Edison (General Electric) made sure that the first electric chair used the AC current promoted by his rival Tesla (Westinghouse), to popularize that point. (source) But I doubt it makes much difference in any practical sense of anodizer safety.


Can Titanium Be Worn with Other Metals?

June 3, 2008

I received this email:

Dear Sir,
I would like to know when titanium and gold accessories are worn together, will there be any chemical reaction affecting both metals. I am wearing a Gold Chain now and I wish to purchase a Titanium Chain but I do not know whether there will be any adverse reaction. As I know Gold and Silver accessories can’t be worn together, so how about titanium and gold?

I hadn’t previously considered that gold and silver might react on the skin. But, yes they do. It isn’t much of a reaction, but it is to the detriment of the silver.

I replied:

Titanium is safe to wear with other metals.
Titanium always has a protective oxide coating that prevents any electrolytic reaction with other metals. Basically, moisture cannot reach the metal itself in order to complete a reaction. If it is scratched, the protective coating immediately re-forms (unless in a perfectly inert atmosphere (argon, krypton, etc) or a vacuum). That’s part of why titanium is such a good candidate for medical implants.

Go ahead and try it: http://mrtitanium.com/TitaniumChains.html

In detail, any two metals in a conductive solution (impure water) will exchange ions. If the metals touch, then an electric current forms, eating away at one of the metals. That’s how a battery works. Body moisture acts as an electrolyte between silver and gold, and hydrogen is produced at the gold side, and oxygen on the silver. Silver oxide is black and soluble; it tarnishes and eventually eats into the silver.

But for the reaction to continue, neither metal can be allowed to grow a continuous, non-soluble insulating layer. Titanium and niobium grow very good insulating layers when just exposed to most electrolytes. In fact, I force this insulating layer with enough voltage to produce the colors. That’s called “anodizing.”


Epoxy Resin and Allergic Contact Dermatitis/Eczema

May 13, 2008

Titanium and Niobium cannot be soldered, so I am told.

So, short of Fusion Welding, Jewelers 2-part Epoxy seems to be the only alternative for bonding these elements.

There are 2 concerns regarding Epoxy Resin.

First, and foremost, is the fact that Epoxy Resin is an allergen causing agent in itself. Although not everyone suffers from Allergic Contact Dermatitis/Eczema, those of us who do, seem to be prone to react to a specified list of items. Epoxy Resin is one of them.

This means, in jewelry design, it is important that no Epoxy touch the skin. Although it is acceptable under governmental code (even in California), to label a pierced earring “hypo-allergenic” if at least, the post itself contains no allergen causing agents, the fact is, it’s not just the post that comes into “contact” with our skin.

Second, it is difficult to adhere Titanium and Niobium with Epoxy Resin. But I have found that attention to certain details seems to be the answer for success.

* The larger the two surfaces to be bonded, the more secure the bond.

* Etch the two surfaces well. Epoxy needs nooks and crannies to create a place to bond. I usually do this with needle files, in a cross hatch fashion. Filing in both directions creates an etching effect, as opposed to filing in one direction which creates a buffed effect.

* Remove all dirt, debre, and skin oils from the surfaces to be adhered. Rubbing alcohol works fine for this.

* 2-part Epoxies contain Resin, and Hardener. It’s important to use equal amounts of each. I use a paper plate and squeeze equal sized drops of each, next to one and other. Give it a moment to make sure that the two liquids (which are different in consistency to each other) are actually equal. Then I mix well with a toothpick, and apply evenly to one of the surfaces.

* I then have 5 minutes to set the second surface, press into place, and remove any excess (with a dampened cloth.

* I usually let this cure under a lamp for 12 hours. Then test the adhesion by trying to remove the two components from one and other. If it doesn’t come apart, I consider it a success. If it does come apart, it usually means that I didn’t etch the surfaces well enough.

Follow up care to the finished piece should include the following considerations. Don’t soak the piece for any length of time. Don’t use harsh chemicals on the piece. Both of these actions can loosen the epoxy.